Especially if you have a young child, try to avoid telling her too early. By the time the baby comes, your older child may be totally bored with the whole idea.
No matter how you decide to space your children, do whatever you can to help prepare your two-, three-, or four-year-old for what's coming. (Unfortunately, you can't do much to prepare a one-year-old due to his limited verbal skills.)
Your child, especially if she's still a toddler, may not notice the dramatic increase in the size of your (or your partner's) belly. If you suddenly go away for a day or two and come back with a baby, your child will quite understandably have a fit. So give your child fair warning so that she has time to get used to the idea. This doesn't mean you need to break the news as soon as you find out that there's a baby on the way. But certainly your child should know about it by the sixth month of pregnancy.
After you've broken the news, talk to your child about it often enough so that he can share new thoughts and concerns as they arise. But don't talk about the baby every day unless your child brings up the subject. (He needs to know that the baby isn't the only important thing in your life.) Talk about your reasons for wanting another child, about what babies are like, about how they grow inside a mother's belly.
If you don't know the sex of your baby, talk about that, too—but try not to build up expectations for one gender over the other. If you do know the sex, by all means let your child know, too (although you should keep in mind that methods of sex determination can sometimes be wrong). And ask your child's opinion about possible names you are considering.
If your child wants to know why you want another baby, tell him as honestly as you can. But don't claim that you're doing it for your child's sake—so that he'll have someone to play with, for instance. In the first place, your child probably doesn't want what you're offering. He'd rather make friends and arrange playdates. In the second place, it's misleading, because your baby won't be able to do anything even approaching play with your child for many months after the birth. And in the final analysis, it's probably a lie. Though you certainly considered your child's welfare in choosing to have another baby, it probably wasn't the decisive factor. In the end you made your decision for your own reasons.
In talking about the coming baby, try to give your child a sense of ownership. From the beginning of your discussions, refer to the new baby as "your brother" or "your sister" or "your brother or sister."
When you talk to your child about the baby during your pregnancy, help her to cultivate a sense of superiority. This helps build your child's self-esteem and may make him more tolerant of the baby's annoying presence when the baby does arrive. So let your child know how helpless the baby will be and how much the baby will need his help. Tell him that, unlike him, the baby won't be able to feed himself or wash himself or go to the bathroom by himself or even play by himself. Let your child know that the baby will cry whenever he needs something, but because the baby won't be able to talk, you'll just have to guess what that something is. Tell him that the baby will wet or dirty his diapers 10 or 15 times a day. (Depending on your child's age, he might find this last detail hilarious.)
Let your child know too that this helplessness will not last forever. It may help to begin telling him stories about things—especially funny things—that he did when he was "just a baby." Try to bring alive his own infancy for him. Pull out the photo albums and show him pictures of his first year. Get out the crib a little early and remind your child that he used to sleep there when he was little, but that now it's for the new baby.
If you have a young child who still sleeps in a crib and you don't plan to buy another, make sure to move him into a "big bed" well before the baby arrives. And do likewise if you'll be moving him into a new room. If he has to "give up" his space to make room for the baby, your child is sure to resent feeling supplanted in this way.
You also can look to outside help to prepare your child for the arrival of a new sibling. Find out if your hospital or a local parents' group offers a class for expectant siblings. These usually provide a good introduction to infant behavior.
Encourage your child to express any feelings he has about the new baby—including anxiety and even outright anger—even before the baby arrives. By giving your child permission to voice the unpleasant feelings he has about the baby, you may help him to "make room" for warmer feelings (excitement, pride, and so on), too.
You can also encourage the development of warm feelings for the coming sibling by including your child in the pregnancy (as much as he wants to be included). Give him the chance to feel the baby kicking. This will help the baby become real for your child even before he appears. Let him know what he can do to help during your pregnancy, but don't put pressure on him to help if he doesn't want to. (Your three- or four-year-old probably will.)
Most importantly, do everything you can well before the baby is born to establish the routines that you will need to adopt after the baby arrives. Try to get your child's life going so smoothly that the arrival of the baby won't disrupt her routines. Some examples:
- If your child will be going to day care or preschool or if you will need to hire a new sitter, do it well in advance of the final months of pregnancy.
- If your child does not attend day care, be sure to establish regular playdates at some of her friends' homes months before the birth. You will really appreciate these playdates after the baby comes—and so will your child, if only because it gives her a break from obsessing about you and that bothersome baby.
- If you have a young child who still breastfeeds, wean her several months before the new baby arrives. Otherwise, your child may still remember breastfeeding, and whenever you nurse the baby, she'll feel, "Hey, that's mine!"
- If you plan to take time off from work after the baby is born, stop working well before the baby arrives (unless you cannot possibly afford to do so). Otherwise your child will feel (rightly so) that you're willing to stay home for the baby even though you never stayed home for her.